Thursday, 28 January 2010

Tied up with no place to go

A non-capitalised title; that's a sure fire clue to a post without content. Don't ask why that might be, you'll have to just accept on trust that I don't know what I'm going to write. In fact the only real content is implied by the title - I've got stuff to do (a report to write as it happens) and as such have not been able to get out to produce the necessary content with which to construct what, in this blog at least, might be construed as a valid post. That's content.

"What about me!"

Blimey, it's him, the invented person.

"Him! HIM!! You really know how to insult a woman, don't you."

Work that one out. I invent a character, I decide what gender that character will be, and suddenly the character's there saying how I've got it wrong and he's now a woman.

"I'm here you know. There's no need to talk over my head, that's just plain rude."

It's called narration dear.

"Don't you 'Dear' me. You have no clue do you, no clue at all about what makes the mind of a woman tick. And what makes her explode. We've been talking for what ... a minute and you've already wound me up to breaking point. Is this how you treat her? The other half of the 'we' you keep referring to. I bet she gets wound up too."

Blimey. Remind me not to write fiction again.

"And exactly what's that supposed to mean? Are you saying I'm not real?"

The only thing I can say for certain is that I get to decide when a post ends.

"You really believe that don't you?"

I'll tell you what I believe. In fact I'll tell you what I've decided, because - and trust me on this - I really do have a very big say on what goes on around here.

"Not for long ... "

No, really.

"Alright then Mr High and Mighty - and no, I don't find assertive men attractive - alright then, tell us what you've decided."

What I've decided Gloria, Witch of Sheepstor, is securely contained in the content of this sentence.



Saturday, 23 January 2010


There's a pool, with the inevitable Faustian associations, called Crazywell. We didn't walk around it seven times or even three. Noticeably, and perhaps for good reason, there are no stories linking the Devil's appearance with taking reflection type photographs. Fortunate that.

Here's an alternative ...

As it happens, the Devil doesn't figure at all in the legends associated with Crazywell. To make up for it, there's the 'Witch of Sheepstor' to deal with and an 'Oracle' in the pool, that may or may not be the ghostly voice that predicts who will be the next person of Wakhampton Parish to die. And of course, like so many other variants, the pool is bottomless. I hesitate to say that none of this is true ... but not for long. None of this is true.

Except for the bit about a witch.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Eylesbarrow Attained

"About time", I hear someone say, "about bloody time you got to that god-forsaken ... and I suppose you took some more photos as well. You did, didn't you. How many this time? I bet there's a sky-scape thing with golden clouds and not much ground. I bet there is. I bet."

"Oh! ... So what's that then?"

Moss, actually. Moss with the sun coming in over the top. Moss that's grown atop a stone which once marked the top of a wall that, apparently, led down to one of the shafts around Eylesbarrow Tin Mine.

To be honest, there's not too much to see once you get there. Most likely, ninety-five percent of the structures have long since been robbed of stone and now make up the walls in a good number of houses in Sheepstor and the immediate vicinity. Despite the lack, it turns out that Eylesbarrow was once the most prosperous of the 19th century tin mines on Dartmoor - certainly comparable with other examples such as Whiteworks and those in the Birch Tor area.

I got that bit from the 1999 Devon Archaeological Proceedings. Very exciting reading. It goes on about adits, comditches, flat rods, reaves and, my current favourite, whims. Super stuff.

Oh alright, it's not quite as exciting as Stone Rows or Roman Forts, so here's Clover, striking a natural pose, the kind of pose that all dogs strike when they're sitting in a barren window frame while nervously wondering whether she'll be left there for eternity.

Well of course we didn't leave her there. Not for an eternity. We'll go back tomorrow.

"Hold on. Wait a moment. I don't believe you left Clover for the night, but you slipped something in back there. You mentioned Roman Forts. That sounds interesting. I mean really interesting."

Patience, invented person. Patience. And while you're going about patiently, you might want to go back a few posts and read about the fort at Calstock. That was Roman.

"Oh .... well I suppose it was."

Alright, just to cheer you up, here's another cloud-scape thingy.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Strung Behind the Sun

Out to Down Tor Stone Row in the company of Ros, Anne, Jack and Clover. No incidents, just some nice doctored photos.

First off, an enhanced image of old mine buildings down on the Deancombe track close to Rachel's Rest.

Here we are up at the Row and Jack's a bit concerned about what the idiot in red is doing this time. You'll have to zoom in to see the expression on his face. Meanwhile the girls, long since accustomed to such nonsense, are checking out the scenery.

Coming back down and a view towards Burrator with the defracted sun reflecting off the reservoir.

And finally, another doctored image of the sun sinking below the slopes of Sheepstor.

For anyone who's been pulled in by a search for a Green Pajamas track with the same name as the post title, I hope you didn't have a wasted trip! And no, it's not a coincidence. Look out for the Elusive Dr D.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Bellever Thaw

Bellever is a place, not a construct.

Leaving the Noddy Car at Postbridge, Ros, Clover and I walked out of the valley incorporating the East Dart River, over the rise and back down to Bellever and its Clapper Bridge. Well, half of one at least.

Despite the thaw that has settled on Dartmoor, the East Dart was not coming down with excessive gusto and was running clean with a nice hint of brown mineralisation. If I was any type of fisherman I'd probably have a fine saying to go with such a description and know just what bait to employ to catch whatever type of fish. But no. I'm neither fish nor fisherman.

Coming back over the rise, we descended towards Postbridge at just the right angle to get a photo of another pairing of new and old bridges.

Lunch was had at the East Dart Hotel. There weren't any fisherman there, at least none that looked (and smelled the part). Instead it was serving what appeared for the most part to be monied locals eating very good but essentially basic fayre. I had a pork baguette featuring hot meat from the carvery. Ros had a tuna mayo baguette - no surprise there - and Clover had a small chip and the last vestige of a crusty bit.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Banks and Ditches across The Tamar

For the uninitiated, The Tamar is the demarcation line between Devon and Cornwall. This side of the river everyone is civilised. That side people often have a third eye and talk a different langauge. At least those who haven't retired there - which leaves scant few with ocular distrurbancies.

The Tamar also marks the boundary of Roman intervention in Britain. Let's re-phrase that. Tradition has it that the Romans did not get past the Tamar into Cornwall. Ego dictates that the Romans couldn't conquer the territory. Sense has it that there wasn't any place called Cornwall two thousand years ago and that what we now know as that county is a mixture of indigenous Britons, Irish settlers, emmets and grockles.

Unfortunately, the Romans weren't much for tradition and had little respect for the ego; turns out that they did get over the Tamar and there are forts enough to testify to the fact. Two of those forts - and let's note that these are the forts that have been discovered, as opposed to those forts that did in fact exist - two of those forts, at Restormel and at Nanstallon, are situated within a matter of miles from each other, but were built on two , unconnected river estuaries, the Camel and the Fowey. Sitting in between, a modern monster hiding a potential ancient jewel, is Bodmin. (Or Baaardmin, if you have a third eye).

The third fort, discovered soon after Restormel, sits above Calstock on the Tamar - the wrong side of the Tamar - and whilst the first two are comparatively small at between 80 and 100 metres down one side, the Calstock fort is almost twice the size, at 160m by 170m. It's not just the size that's important though. The site, which easily surrounds the Church and its environs, also appears to incorporate the still surviving road that leads down to Calstock proper. 

As yet, the archaeologists responsible for the dig have yet to publish their results and if past experience is anything to go by, we may have to wait a very long time for that to happen. However, if there's any connection between the three forts, it may be concerned with the brevity of their use. Nanstallon certainly was occupied for just a couple of decades in the first century AD and because of the geographic connection with Restormel, it's likely that both establishments were part of the same strategic development.

Perhaps though the size of the Calstock fort and the characteristics of its construction may indicate a longer life. Certainly, there is medieval documentary evidence of an 'old fort' at Calstock which would suggest that the banks and ditches were prominent enough to have survived for more than a millenia.

The other intriguing aspect of the Calstock fort is that it doesn't fit in with the traditional view on Roman incursions into the South West peninsular. A brief chain of marching camps to the north of Dartmoor, have led to the conclusion that soon after the AD43 invasion (soon perhaps meaning decades), the legionary force at Exeter pushed round Dartmoor, crossed the Tamar somewhere and moved into what became Cornwall. The Bodmin forts fit in with that notion quite well. However the Calstock fort is a long way south from any projected route from north of the moors and may imply a southern route or perhaps a second advancing column.

Yet all that speculation is centred on the assumption of a military campaign. That all three forts reside on river systems - three different rivers note - could lead to the conclusion that there was no heroic marching campaign at all and that the structures were naval stations used to stock mined materials - tin or silver - before they were shipped back to somewhere in the Empire.

Now, I promise we'll go out in the next few days and take some piccies ...

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Necessary Updates

1. Rachel's Ankle. We have it on impeccable word, Rachel's herself, that the ankle suffered a sprain, not a fracture or break. This is not to downplay the severity of the incident - I can testify myself that there was a lot of pain present - but at least we know that the recovery time will be a lot shorter. 'Until I can get the boot back on', the woman said.

2. The Boiler. The man - and note that this is a different man than the man I was referring to as the man - the man said that the problem was a photocell, or something with a similar name and purpose. I'm not sure myself what that purpose was, only the result, a bloody cold house and the threat of frozen pipes. But not now. Thanks to the man, we're warm and unsmelly. This year, we've decided, will be the year to invest in a wood burning stove - this will ensure, absoluitely, that we won't get a cold spell like this one for many years to come.

3. The Detail. Rachel has since told me that she'd like a little more detail on the incident and what followed. She says that she can't remember. Well, being as it interests me for some sad reason, I thought I'd expand on the decision about routes.

View Larger Map

This snapshot from Google Maps shows where we were when the incident occured. You can see that the boundaries, banks topped by dry stone walls, encroach upon the open ground to form a funnel of sorts. This would have been used by Dartmoor farmers to push cattle or sheep, possibly ponies though a gate and into more enclosed field systems.

For us, the obvious thing to do was to follow the route down and thence choose the best option to get onto the track. Both Paul and I agreed that it was better to get to a situation where we could use the Land Rover rather than make Rachel hobble too far.

My normal route back from here is to cut right - westward - after going through the funnel, and following what is normally a well-trodden path. Unfortunately I'd forgotten that this path involves crossing a minor stream by way of a large step between two boulders. I didn't remember this until I'd passed through two fields - I was rushing ahead to locate a path - and so when I returned I was rather frustrated.

Meanwhile, perhaps because of the time it was taking, Paul had pushed south, dropping down into Deancombe and had found a better alternative. A quick discussion convinced me that he was right and so while he stayed with Rachel, I headed south along what on the following snapshot is a very clear path.

View Larger Map

Although it seems fairly inoquious, it was somewhat rocky in places, especially where it cut slightly east through the trees to reach the track in the combe. As I went down I cleared the snow away as much as I could, ridding the path of loose rocks, so that Rachel, following on her crutches wouldn't have too hard a time.

Once on the track, I found a spot within the remains of an old building, probably mine works, though it might have been a farm building. Here I set my survival blanket against an a wall that served as a shelter from the easterly wind. It also meant that Rachel couldn't see the weather moving in from a direction that is as unusual on Dartmoor as it is severe.

Here's the spot.

View Larger Map

And if you utlise your mouse, you can trace the route Paul had to run and the same route he drove the Land Rover to get back.

What's lucky about this spot is that it marks the limit of a functionable track. While the Land Rover might have got beyond that point, or might have climbed a short way out of the combe, the chances are that if we'd stationed Rachel higher up the slope, she'd still have been required to walk down in any case.

At least amongst ourselves, I feel we might rename that deserted building. Rachel's Rest might do it.

Friday, 8 January 2010

On the slopes of Down Tor

As such things do, today's excursion happened more on a whim than a plan. Fortunately, extremely fortunately, even though there was little in the way of preparation, all parties concerned packed just enough of what was needed with one important, but not catastrophic, exception. From the start though.

This morning we had a call from Rachel offering two seats in their Land Rover on a shopping trip to Yelverton. As tame as that sounds, considering we hadn't been to the shops in four days - because Noddy Cars don't do snow and ice - it was an especially welcome invitation. You don't need to be bored with what we bought, the six pints of milk will suffice to give a suggestion of what we think there is to come in the next few days.

On the way back, Paul let slip that they were planning a walk to Down Tor Stone Row this afternoon. Naturally, I was tempted, but knowing that Ros would be on her own with no heating and only a slim promise of a boiler man, I decided not to say anything. I was still hedging against the trip when I chatted with Rachel on MSN half an hour or so after we got back. But Rachel said please and Ros relented, so, with just half an hour to prepare, I started rushing round - making cheese rolls (with salad cream), brewing a flask of tea, packing the ruck sack and prising on thermal long johns, waterprrof trousers, boots, gaiters and ice gripper things.

At 12.45 I was still just approaching the meeting point when Rachel and Paul arrived in the Landy. In short order, we'd stowed Clover and Jack, the latter on loan from Anne because she was working, in the back with Daisy, Abby and another Pointer, Biba, an eight-month old chocolate drop of energy. Not more than twenty minutes later, we were parked up at Norsworthy and soon tramping up the preliminary slopes of Down Tor.

To set the scene, this is the road round Burrator. The signpost in the left of the picture is a bus stop.

Scenic then, photogenic naturally and not, given what we were wearing, too cold considering that Rachel's thermometer displayed a range of temperatures beginning at around 2 degrees centigrade and finishing at somethings passed 5 below.

From Norsworthy, we climbed up to the first and second outcrops that lead up to Down Tor proper before skirting round to the north. With both Paul and myself stopping frequently to take photos, our progress was significantly slower than usual, made worse by the snow that served to hide the usual footpaths. A combination of the wind and the terrain had served to create some wonderful effects in the snow, deep drifts in places - certainly enough to swamp a dog or two - and in others, wonderful wave formations.

Coming to a tall outcropping stone north of Down Tor, we halted briefly for a piece of nutty, sticky fruit cake that Paul had brought with him, a quick mug of strongly brewed tea followed by a snifter of sweet, fruity alcohol from Paul's flask. Whilst there, Jack and Biba put on a show of friendly dog wrestling that produced the following cropped image.

Continuing round the Tor we gave ourselves the opportunity of pushing on to the Stone Row, but time and a degree of sense made us continue along a contour. Just before we reached this decision, I took the next shot, a view towards the gully that runs along the northern edge of the rise of ground - off to the right here - where the row is situated. Approximately here, using Streetmap.

A further decision was made to head more directly for the hard track that runs along Deancombe and it was as we were dropping down towards the lowest point in the field system - approximately south-south-west from the arrow on the map - that Rachel sank too deeply into a snow drift and did some severe damage to an already weak ankle.

I'll save on the detail from here if you don't mind. In summary, utilising a couple of old fence posts for support, Paul helped Rachel down to the hard track along a route that I scouted. While I stayed with the injured party, serving hot tea, cheese and salad cream rolls, a survival blanket and two dogs, Paul ran back along the track, jumped in the Landy and drove it along Deancombe to pick us up - a feat in itself.

Here's an image that doesn't come with a photo. On arriving back at their house, Paul decided that the best means of getting Rachel indoors was with the use of a wheelbarrow. I did ask if I could get my camera out, but Rachel politely turned down the opportunity.

Meanwhile, back at home, I arrived to the pleasing sound of a boiler chucking hot air out into the cold; surely a waste of energy, but blessed relief to a stinky walker who needed a shower.

Thursday, 7 January 2010


For want of a better alternative, but mostly because it was just too beautiful outisde, we ventured up the hill past the Church this afternoon. Whilst there's no real path up to the Church, the way is well marked in ordinary times - trampled grass in effect rather than mud - but with the snow in measurable quantities, there's a distinct record of passing.

While we're walking passed, it's worth mentioning the Church and noting the unusual layout. Though Streetmap doesn't actually show it, the building follows the general flow of the fields in facing a south-west and north-east rather than the normal east, west direction. Why this should be remains, for the moment, an unknown, though word in the village has it that it faces towards the rising sun in mid-summer. This is certainly possible, but it should also be noted that early churches were set up to face the sun rise on the day of the dedicated Saint.

This possibility should, however, be balanced against the fact that, until relatively recently, the Church did not have any such dedication. This may mean that a saintly dedication was once there and was lost. It may also turn out that there never was such a dedication and that the Church faces the direction it had to given the circumstances of its construction.

If it does align to the setting or rising sun for any particular day, it may also give an indication that it was built on the site of a pre-existing stone alignment. This wouldn't be unusual at all, though it would have been expected that the alignment would have been altered to east-west at some point. More in due course.

We'd hoped to walk along the road towards the old railway line but found instead our way obstructed by four foot snow drifts. This was certainly reward enough for the walk up the hill.

Here's Clover giving you an impresson of scale ...

Here's Ros doing something similar ...

And here's an arty shot of a snow-covered hedge ...

Heating update. There is none. Which is to say, until the man can get down into the village, we're stuck with no central heating.

Frozen in ...

While we didn't, in the scheme of things, get huge amounts of snow, it was enough to cover the ground by perhaps six inches and, more significantly, enough to freeze. And since Noddy Cars - such as a Honda Jazz - don't do snow and ice, we are, for the time being, frozen in place.

Our pub decided to celebrate New Year's Eve with an 'Eighties' night. This was far too late for those of us still residing in the Sixties or Seventies. Up to twenty years too late - depending on what's being played. We are, happily, frozen in time.

Yes, predictably enough, the boiler went on strike again. I've checked the oil tank, the water pressure, I've pressed the button and I've not kicked a thing. We are, until the man arrives, frozen indoors.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Snow under a sinking sun

Who need words with a title like that ...

And finally, but inevitably ...

Literary Blogging - Do you need to be abnormal?

In an effort to expand the horizons of its bloggers, blogspot has taken the sensible decision to highlight sites on a daily basis. The examples they choose fall into a small number of categories including, as a high percentage, literary blogs - sites where the emphasis is on writing rather than content specifics. There's a saying of sorts, more of a feel in fact, that a writer - a good writer - needn't have content; style is enough.

It's for this reason that writers' diaries do so well. Sure you'll get the odd snippet as the writer interacts with other famous bods to create literary gossip (in fact it's these snippets amplified to a whole book that create what are now known as celebrity biographies), but usually a good writer will get away with a diary for diary's sake and still produce a worthwhile prose collection.

But for what ever reason, literary blogs are different. They still act as a diary and they'll certainly include the odd snippet - even if that snippet is based on local knowledge or close friends - but for the large majority of example, a piece of writing requires an excuse, a positive suggestion of content for the entry to be worthwhile. And when that content is not present in the real world, the only fall back is the character, predeliction, experience, taste or otherwise of the blogger.

Here's some examples from drawn from Blogspot's more recent selection.

"Sometimes I feel invisible. Or two-dimensional. Like a crudely drawn character on a flickpad, with a life consisting of involuntary movements, without a voice of my own to cry out with. I find myself flailing like a sailor in these moments, my soul gasping for air as it tries to escape the confines of this flesh and blood prison, leaving me feeling something less than solid."
Mysterg - Meditations in an Emergency

"I have been spreading myself thin lately. I don't mean this is a sexual way."
Hannah Miet - My Soul is a Butterfly

"There are a lot of words people overuse or get wrong. They sit on lips like tumours and hover on pages like the person at the house party that nobody invited. “Literally” is one, “unique” is another. A third is “life-changing”. Life is full of changes, that’s a cliché, but very little can truly change your life. There are such a small number of events so significant that they deserve, that they have earned, that adjective."
Mr London Street - Mr London Street

So if content is limited to personality, is it then necessary to be in some way abnormal in order to be a literary blogger. Has Mr London Street had such a complex set of relationships that his blog justifies the inclusion of so many personal entries? Does Hannah Miet have such an unusual sex life - or is it merely the desire for one that keeps her motivated?

The Leat has content of course, and it's almost always activity based. Since it's been snowing over Dartmoor today and the South West of Britian is, ordinarily, snow-starved, activities will soon get under way.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

A Winter Bimble

But what does the dictionary say?

Nothing, as it happens. There's no such word as Bimble according to the 1969 reprint (with corrections) of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. So what does it mean?

Well, today saw us joined by Abby, Daisy and Rachel, Paul having been dropped off at Turnchapel for an afternoon of 'Boy's Stuff' in and around the yacht basin. The rest of us drove round the headland to Heybrook Bay where we lunched at a secret place then bimbled along the coast almost to Wembury.

Here's what the view look like while we bimbled.

And later, after we'd bimbled a bit, it looked like this.

For completists, the triangular lump of rock sticking out from the water is known as 'The Great Mew Stone'.

And here we have five girls on a rock, a phrase that certainly deserves a punch line.

So back to Bimble. With nothing in the Shorter OED, a visit to the Urban Dictionary is in order. Here's what it says:

To amble without real aim, yet in a friendly and harmless manner. It's not required to achieve nothing, though it is a frequent side-effect.

Apparently it means more than that and other stuff besides, but that'll do for The Leat, and it's a perfect description of our afternoon on the coast between Heybrook and Wembury.

Friday, 1 January 2010

An Arbitrary Turn

Calendars aren't scientific. Time is, certainly, but calendars, that succession of days, weeks and months, is an arbitrary process, a compromise between the earth's rotation and the whims of various historical personages. So while the year as measured by the earth's rotation ends on the Winter Solstice, the calendar renews itself some 10 days later. Give or take the odd quarter day. Which we have to make up for every four years.

As if to emphasize the mistake, today was a stunner. Bloody cold, especially on the picnic bench eating cheddar and salad cream sandwiches, but a stunner nevertheless. Clover got to go in the sea, we walked up and down a beach, and in the process, the weather looked a lot like this ...

And the people looked like this ...

That was Widemouth Bay, an interesting name considering it doesn't, not now at least, mark the passage of any major river. Indeed, the topography doesn't give much impression of any pre-existing river system past the odd stream or two. No explanation then, not now at least.

I hope everybody who reads this had as good a day as we did.